How do I know if my kid is safe playing against others in online games?

It's nerve-racking when your kids are playing against people you don't know -- especially if they have usernames like "CoolPooper1000." But if your kid follows some basic rules, it's actually pretty safe to allow multiplayer action.

The most important thing is choosing age-appropriate games that you've approved and that have solid privacy settings. Privacy settings for kids' games should give you the ability to block people, flag misbehavior, and limit the kinds of communication kids can have (some games allow "free chat" and some let you choose chat phrases from a list). Many online games employ moderators who keep an eye on things to make sure the game's rules are being followed. People looking to find kids on the Internet for negative purposes usually don't hang out on large, branded game sites with strict privacy settings and moderators.

As far as the people your kid is playing against, it's quite likely they're pals from the "real world." These days, when kids discover they're both, say, Pokémon fans, they ask for each other's "handles" and make plans to meet up online. That said, it's important to teach your kids a few basic rules so they can protect themselves in online environments that aren't as well controlled.

  • Recognize potential red flags of unwanted contact.
  • Don't play against kids who are mean to you.
  • Check every game (or site or app) for features that let you customize the game for your ability, age, family rules, and so on. Games often offer many options to boost safety.
  • Never share passwords. Keeping your password protected is essential to online safety.
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